LEONARD NIMOY/R. MICHELSON GALLERIES
Leonard Nimoy has died at the age of 83. He’ll always be remembered for playing Star Trek’s Spock, the beloved Vulcan with a wicked eyebrow arch and extended finger salute, but it’s his work as a photographer shooting plus-size women in his book, The Full Body Project, that I’ll remember.
Nimoy, before plus-size ads appeared in Sports Illustrated or a major modeling agency hired a size 22 model, got downright feminist body activist with the New York Times back in 2007 when he sat down to answer questions about photographing large women:
“The average American woman, according to articles I’ve read, weighs 25 percent more than the models who are showing the clothes they are being sold. So, most women will not be able to look like those models. But they’re being presented with clothes, cosmetics, surgery, diet pills, diet programs, therapy, with the idea that they can aspire to look like those people. It’s a big, big industry. Billions of dollars. And the cruelest part of it is that these women are being told, ‘You don’t look right.’”
Nimoy’s transformation from photographer to size-acceptance champion happened when a large, 250-pound woman asked him to photograph her body in the nude. From there, he discovered Heather MacAllister, the founder and artistic director of Big Burlesque and the Fat Bottom Revue, a group of plus-size burlesque dancers out of San Francisco. It was MacAllister who told Nimoy, “Any time a fat person gets on a stage to perform and is not the butt of a joke — that’s a political statement.” Nimoy told the Times, McAllister’s statement was “profound,” and for the rest of his life, he continued to shoot large women moving their bodies.
Nimoy found inspiration in Matisse and even Herb Ritts, replacing the late photographer’s iconic image of naked supermodels huddled together in their nakedness with plus-size women doing the same. When NPR sat down with Nimoy for the release of The Full Body Project, he was essentially health-trolled by Scott Simon and questioned on his choice of using large, unhealthy women as beautiful subjects for his photography when a new study suggested a link between obesity and cancer. Nimoy wasn’t having any of it and said:
“I will be looking at the study with great interest. I’m also aware there are studies that tell us that stress, and lack of self image and lack of self esteem; severe dieting, binge dieting and binge eating, can also be very damaging to the body…”
Mashable published images from the Full Body Project collection and spoke to author Natalie Angier who wrote the introduction to Nimoy’s book. “It really disturbed [Nimoy] that women who considered themselves overweight had this terrible feeling about themselves,” Angier said. “He wanted to show the world that there’s beauty to be found in different body types.”
The Full Body Project didn’t sell. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. But Nimoy was more than Spock, more than a director of a guilty pleasure like Three Men and a Baby. Nimoy got it, he so got the beauty dichotomy women face every single day and he found it “profound” enough and political enough to spend a rather large portion of his life talking about the way women are constantly sold the idea there’s something inherently wrong with them. If Spock taught us how to be human, Leonard Nimoy, the man, wanted women to know whatever kind of body you have right now, it’s more than fine, it’s beautiful. Move it, photograph it, love it.
Godspeed, sir. You’ll be missed greatly. Thank you.